Wednesday, December 21


So the secretly authorized, illegal NSA spy program netted purely domestic calls after all the administration's denials, huh?

I have a distinct feeling that we're going to eventually discover that "direct links to Al Qaeda" has been so loosely defined as to include anyone who's checked out a book, spoken or written anything on the subject, donated money to a Muslim charity, or questioned the president's war policy, Cindy Sheehan and Teresa Heinz Kerry, you've been warned. Better file your Freedom Of Information Act requests right now.

But questions about the legal and operational oversight of the program last year prompted the administration to suspend aspects of it temporarily and put in place tighter restrictions on the procedures used to focus on suspects, said people with knowledge of the program. The judge who oversees the secret court that authorizes intelligence warrants - and which has been largely bypassed by the program - also raised concerns about aspects of the program. [emphasis mine]

How did the FISA court judge know about the program? This is the first I've heard that. Interesting.

The concerns led to a secret audit, which did not reveal any abuses in focusing on suspects or instances in which purely domestic communications were monitored, said officials familiar with the classified findings.

How reassuring. A secret audit by whom? Alberto Gonzales?

General Hayden, at this week's briefing, would not discuss many technical aspects of the program and did not answer directly when asked whether the program was used to eavesdrop on people who should not have been. But he indicated that N.S.A. operational personnel sometimes decide to stop surveillance of a suspect when the eavesdropping has not produced relevant leads on terror cases.

"We can't waste resources on targets that simply don't provide valuable information, and when we decide that is the case," the decision on whether a target is "worthwhile" is usually made in days or weeks, he said.

National security and telecommunications experts said that even if the N.S.A. seeks to adhere closely to the rules that Mr. Bush has set, the logistics of the program may make it difficult to ensure that the rules are being followed.

The fact that "Mr. Bush" has set the rules is reason enough to be skeptical of the entire program. Mr. Bush has proven that he has little or no respect for rules. To him, they are at best meant to be elastic, at worst entirely breakable.

With roaming cellphones, internationally routed e-mail, and voice-over Internet technology, "it's often tough to find out where a call started and ended," said Robert Morris, a former senior scientist at the N.S.A. who is retired. "The N.S.A. is good at it, but it's difficult even for them. Where a call actually came from is often a mystery."

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